Next week, I'll start with back with my Wednesday Quick Tips.

Below are a few shots from my trip to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. All were taken with my iPhone and all have been processed with Flare. I've posted a new Flare preset, Arco, for download.

A path to better pictures

John Nack (Google, formerly Adobe) linked to this great article by Stu Maschwitz, "How to Take Good Photos for Under $1,000." My favorite line:

The oldest advice about photography is still the best. A “fast 50” is the cheapest, best lens. On your inexpensive DSLR, 50mm is a portrait lens, which means it’s good for taking pictures of people—which are the only pictures anyone cares about.

It's a good collection of sensible advice and you should absolutely read it... especially if you are a designer that ends up having to take a lot of pictures.

A couple of comments:

  • His recommendation to buy a fast 50mm lens is a great one. Yes, zooms are convenient, but shooting with a faster lens is wonderful, especially if you can use natural light and not use a flash. Plus, the 50mm lens is affordable.
  • I wouldn't throw away the kit zoom. But lens quality does matter.
  • Yes, shooting in RAW is worth the extra file size. If you want great results, shoot in RAW.
  • He mentions that Lightroom will cost you about $100. But if you have Creative Cloud, it's one of the apps that Adobe included in the subscription.

When I first started shooting, a 50mm lens was always included when you bought a camera. Now, it's all about zooms. I'm planning on upgrading my camera system soon and I'll definitely take some of Stu's advice.

New Flare Preset: Overcast

I still love the Iconfactory’s Flare app for the Mac. I’ve actually gotten to use it on some print projects lately with great results. Sure, with a little effort, I could probably replicate the effect in Photoshop, but Flare’s a lot more fun and pretty much effortless.

I’ve posted a new preset: Overcast. It will make a photo look dramatically overcast by desaturating it and adding a vignette and rough-edged border.

My new favorite technique with Flare is to apply it to art created in Illustrator. Adds a whole bunch of texture and character. The design below is a sample of my new Raceday font. On the left, the JPG exported from Illustrator. On the right, processed by Flare with my Overcast setting. Big difference.

Flare for Mac

I’m a big fan of the Iconfactory. Love their icons and love their software. So when they announced that they were launching an image application through the Mac App Store… I was intrigued. 

Flare is a straightforward app for “developing” your digital images. Apply a variety of effects to your images. If you like Hipstamatic and Instagram for the iPhone, you’ll love Flare. The big difference of course is that with the full processing power of the Mac, you get a lot more flexibility and power. You can save your creations in JPG, PNG or TIFF. Or you can export to Flickr. It’s a simple, elegant app that’s a lot of fun to play around in.

Flare ships with a few dozen presets, but its real power is the ability to combine and assemble your own effects. And then export those effects to share with friends. (I’ve included a few of my presets below to download.)

Screen shot 2011-03-16 at 10.07.40 PM.png

Flare’s not perfect. I’m not sure the the Snapshot features works like I expect it to. Occassionally, it’s a little slow with larger images. And there are a few other minor little rough spots, but knowing the Iconfactory, those will be ironed out quickly.

For a limited time, Flare is available in the Mac App Store for $9.99. (Hurry, because I’m pretty sure the offer ends this weekend.) Normal price will be $19.99.

Sample Images

The following images are a few old images that I pulled out of the archives and enjoyed breathing new life into them in Flare.


Angry Crab

Caboose P.jpg

Windy CityCaboose P

Download Presets

Flare lets you export presets to share with friends. I’ve include the presets for the images above. 

Photoshop on the iPhone: Version 1.1

In October, I posted a review of Mobile for iPhone. Adobe has released a 1.1 update and there are a few notable changes and additions so I figured I’d write a quick update to the review.

New features

Sharpen and Contrast - I mentioned in my first review that I’d love to be able to sharpen images. Version 1.1 adds sharpening. And it also adds the ability to adjust the contrast in the image. Both are great additions to the app. (One problem with how the sharpening is implemented… Because you can’t zoom in and look at the detail while sharpening, it’s really easy to over sharpen images.)

Left: Original fuzzy image from iPhone. Middle: Image sharpening (over) applied. Right: Both sharpening and contrast adjusted on original image and then desaturated.

Borders - The 1.1 update adds a new set of borders. A few of the borders are nice and a few are cheesy… I don’t really use borders, but they are there if you want to use them. I’ve also uploaded a gallery over at demonstrating some of the borders and new features.

Refinements - Adobe seems to have cleaned up the app. The interface feels a little more responsive and more polished. There are still a few behaviors that don’t feel quite right, but I imagine Adobe will continue to refine the interface.

Watch out for text messages

Twice, I got a text message while using Mobile. If you click “Reply,” the iPhone switches right over to the Messages app and loses any changes you had made. To be fair, this is a problem with the iPhone and its lack of multitasking for non-Apple apps, and there is nothing Adobe can do about it. But it is something you should be aware of.

I’ve also played around some more with the online service. Adobe continues to refine the online app and it’s improving.

The team at Adobe seems to be trying to position the service as being a hub for all of your other services. They offer a wide range of export and sharing options. I was able to successfully post galleries to Facebook and Flickr. I was also able to generate a Flash-based slideshow viewer. This could be useful if you want to post photos to several blogs and services simultaneously.

Download or update Mobile for the iPhone version 1.1 for free from the App Store (iTunes link). Learn more about Adobe’s online editing and storage app at

Photoshop on the iPhone and in the “cloud”

Adobe has released Mobile (iTunes Link), an iPhone app. While I was checking out the new app, I also took a look at the web-based, cloud-hosted service. Mobile: The iPhone App Mobile is a free app for your iPhone. You can use it to make some basic adjustments and apply preset filters. Some of the adjustments are useful (for example, exposure changes, cropping and black and white conversion). iPhone App screenshots

While there are a few decent filters, there are also some terrifyingly bad filters (see “pop” and “rainbow.”) I’ve posted a gallery with some examples of these filters and effects. I would love to see some form of sharpening added and the ability to view a histogram.

Examples of selected filters in use. Top left, original image. Top right, vignette blur + black and white. Bottom left, vibrant + vignette blur. Bottom right, rainbow

When you are done, you can save the image to “Photos” on your iPhone. Or you can choose to upload them to More on that in a second…

In general, it works pretty well. And while I did have a few crashes, it is pretty stable and I’m sure it will get more stable as it’s updated. For a free app, it’s solid and worth a download. The Photo-Hosting Service

But you can’t talk about the iPhone app without talking about, Adobe’s web-based application for hosting and editing photos. The service is free and includes 2 GB of storage. It can host both images and videos.

You can upload images, edit them and then share galleries and slide shows. The editing is relatively powerful, allowing you to make lots of alterations including modifying the white balance or performing sharpening. even provides import opinions for Flickr and Facebook galleries.

The application is Flash-based and is relatively attractive. It mirrors the look and feel of an Adobe app, so if you are familiar with the Creative Suite (especially Bridge), you should be comfortable in the interface. Performance is generally very good, but I experienced some slow down with animations. I’m sure your mileage will vary depending on your computer, browser or internet connection.

But there are some oddities. Sometimes, the interface doesn’t behave consistently – requiring a single click for some functions and a double click for others without apparent pattern or cause.

One of the strangest things is that there is no real social networking features. Sure, you can share albums with friends, but there is no way to browse people who have accounts. And you can’t search for tags or keywords like you can on Flickr. So if you, like me, don’t know anyone with a account, this feature is useless.

I’m not really sure what the target market is for the service. Some of the features are powerful. But people who would use the powerful features aren’t going to want to edit images with a web-based service. Some features are useless or tacky (like the “Decorate” feature that lets you add thought bubbles, post-it-notes and clip art to your images).

In the end, I’m not sure why I would use this for sharing pictures over Flickr, Facebook or even .Mac’s Web Gallery. It’s not that it’s bad, but it just doesn’t offer me enough features to make the switch… I’m sure they will be continuously adding features, but for now, I don’t see a compelling reason to change services.

What’s next? Photoshop: The Flame Thrower

So I like the iPhone app, and I don’t love the web-based service. The bigger issue for me, though, is what Adobe is doing to the Photoshop brand. To me, Photoshop is a professional image editing application. But now, you have Photoshop CS4, Photoshop Extended CS4, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom, and the iPhone app. Photoshop even has it’s own logo.

This type of brand extension is problematic, because now, anything that Adobe offers that is used with photos – from beginner to professional – has “Photoshop” in the name. Is the ability to put a cheesy speech bubble on a picture using really a “Photoshop” feature? Does tacky clip art belong in any app bearing the “Photoshop” name?

And while photographers and designers will continue to use Photoshop, the loss of brand equity is, in my opinion, an unwise brand management decision. 

Only at TypeCon...

I took this shot a few months ago and completely forgot about it. At TypeCon 2009 in Atlanta, there were two meetings happening in adjacent rooms. one meeting was the type critique that was open to attendees. The other meeting was a planning session for the web fonts panel the next day and was private. The rooms weren’t well marked so someone in the web fonts panel meeting grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote a quick sign…

Only at TypeCon does a quick handwritten sign look like this… If you haven’t heard the panel discussion, audio is posted online. It really was an interesting look at the challenges behind getting a workable web fonts model…

The modern equivalent of Polaroid?

Kodak Instant Print of a future art director on his Big Wheel. (Taken with an iPhone.)

Everyone loves Polaroid prints. The shape and format is iconic. The quality wasn’t that great. You couldn’t really enlarge or frame the prints. And the camera itself didn’t offer anything that even remotely resembled bells and whistles. But the great thing about Polaroids was that the moment you took a picture you were ready to share it.

The iPhone and other camera phones are becoming the modern equivalent of the Polaroid instant camera.

The photographer in me hates my camera phone. The iPhone camera has 2 megapixel image quality, no flash, no zoom, no control over exposure. My digital SLR is far superior as a camera. And yet, I still take pictures with my iPhone all the time. Why?

It’s because I want to share what I’m shooting. Right then. I take a shot of something and I’m able to email it to someone, post it to an online gallery or Facebook. I’m not planning on making prints or enlargements. I’m not expecting great lighting.

I am capturing a moment and sharing that emotion immediately. Just like with the Polaroid.